I have been a champion of those who decide to live in their truth regarding their sexuality throughout my life. The decision to “come out” is no one-size-fits-all undertaking, and there are many factors people consider before doing so. The constructs of home, family, religion, morality, education, and employment are all things that can be significantly interrupted if a person who is secretly gay is outed in an unsupportive community.
That said, coming out is no easy choice, though, for some, it provides the exhale they’ve waited their whole lives to take. For others, it can be traumatic. Despite the many progressive advances in LGBTQ tolerance, acceptance, and even the passing of marriage equality, many in the LGBTQ community still grapple with their identity, fearing societal rejection. In facing such hurdles, bouts of substance abuse, depression, and even suicide attempts can become pervasive.
Keeping all that in mind, I have to be honest about my annoyance with this week’s big media blitz, chronicling the coming out of former star of The Bachelor, Colton Underwood. Judging by many reactions I’ve read on social media, I am not alone in this assessment:
As I stated at the start of this post, I support people coming out and finding their footing as they embrace their truth. I am sympathetic to it as I reflect on my moment of truth when at 23 years old, I sat my mother down and had that highly complex conversation.
However, when it comes to Underwood’s coming out, it invokes a visceral reaction of recoiling. Maybe it’s because he chose to come out with so much organized fanfare; it all feels like more of a PR campaign or publicity stunt than a genuine, life-affirming admission.
Add to that Underwood’s rounds of interviews on daytime talk shows, prime time special on Nightline, various press junkets, topped off with a simultaneous announcement of a new gay-sploitation Netflix docu-series already in production; co-starring Gus Kenworthy. The show is called “The Gay Guide” and will center around Kenworthy serving as Colton’s gay mentor teaching him how to adjust to being gay. Seriously?
Underwood’s coming out seems to be designed more for exploitation, ratings, and clicks than personal growth and self-awareness. Again, I was not the only one to notice as evident by the following celebrity tweets:
Of course, Colton will undoubtedly have his fair share of gay men swooning over him and following him all over social media and waiting for the inevitable “leaked” dick pick (you know it’s coming). They either don’t know, won’t care, or are willing to overlook the claims of stalking and abuse from Underwood’s former girlfriend, Cassie Randolph. Cassie, who Underwood gave the final rose on The Bachelor, ultimately took out a restraining order against him for stalking and allegedly, even at one point, she accused him of planting a tracking device on her car.
Now, as Underwood seemingly plays the “gay” card to rebrand himself on his reality show as a hot new gay boy — single and ready to mingle, thank goodness some people in the press have asked him to address the stalking allegations. Underwood admits to the bad behavior for which Cassie has accused him, but he blames his struggles on the mental anguish of hiding his sexuality. Cassie reportedly later dropped the charges.
Internal sexual identity conflicts can manifest into dark psychology, but now Underwood claims to be free of those demons. So, where’s Cassie’s apology? She should have been among the first people he called on his “Coming Out” tour. But he admitted to PageSix that he has yet to reach out to her since making his public declaration about being gay. That gives me further pause when considering his character.
I fear that Underwood and Kenworthy will misrepresent the serious nature of coming out, reducing it to a gentrified, trivialized pop culture TV show. I am concerned that the Netflix show might be perceived as a mockery by mainstream America with reinforced stereotypes of pretty blond boys running around LA shirtless. Granted, yes, some gay men might relate to that. However, for millions of us in the LGBTQ community, our gay lives include acts of vigilance for visibility, equality, proper health care, employment, dignity, and expressly standing by our transgender sisters being assaulted and killed out on these streets.
The backlash against Netflix calls out the network for exploiting the LGBTQ coming out experience as entertainment. They’ve been barraged with a series of outspoken tweets of opposition, like this one:
For most of us, coming out and being gay is an existence of strength and perseverance, even sacrifice. There were no Netflix deals for Mathew Sheppard or Brandon Tina — both murdered in hate crimes. There was no Robin Roberts interview for college student Tyler Clementi who killed himself after his college roommate secretly broadcast him live, having sex with another man in their dorm. There are no Nightline interviews for gay men who are at greater risk of suicide attempts before age 25 — a rate alarmingly higher than their heterosexual male counterparts.
Listen, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here and rain on Colton’s Gay Pride Parade. Still, something about the monetization of his coming out is troublesome and reminiscent of Bruce Jenner’s transition to becoming Kaitlyn. That moment seemed far more focused on sensationalizing her as an extension of the Kardashian harem than a person interested in connecting to the plight of the trans community. Let’s also not forget Kaitlyn voted for Trump after transitioning, despite Trump clearly being the most transphobic president in our nation’s history.
Keeping the Kaitlyn travesty in mind, I’m skeptical about celebrities coming out in a blast of Hollywood press and hoopla. What I have seen from Underwood in the past 48 hours feels more like he’s about to join Andy Cohen’s empire in a Housewives spin-off. As Rob Shuter stated, “It feels like they are trying to sell us something?” Yes, I agree with Rob — it does.
Of course, life is to be enjoyed, and being young, free, and openly gay is fun, especially when you control your own narrative. As a fair person, I am willing to give Ken and Colton’s new show the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Colton should live life to the fullest in his newfound truth, but not absent of understanding the pain of the past and the groundbreaking work of LGBTQ heroes who made his liberation possible today.
If Ken Gusworthy wants to be a real gay guide for Colton, I suggest he start with a lesson in LGBTQ history.
Listen to Rob Shuter & Corey Andrew discuss Colton’s coming out on the “Naughty But Nice With Rob” Podcast:
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.